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Jirayr's hand is stilled

Article Published: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 - 7:47:40 PM PST (Pasadena Star News)

OH, ALICE, I'm saying on the phone Tuesday, nice to hear from you. But what I'm thinking is, Oh, Alice, God forbid. Because Alice Zorthian lives in Taos, the real Taos, not the Taos-in-Altadena her parents Dabney and Jirayr Zorthian created on the 40 acres surrounding their adobe in the hills above us all. And when Alice wants to get in touch, she e-mails. And Jerry looked to be in very ill health at the Art Alliance Christmas party; he'd just been in Huntington for a long spell, he told me.

Don't worry, Jirayr, I told him. We all know you'll be up on horseback again in no time.

But what Alice was calling to say, as you know from our front-page story today, was that her father won't be saddling up one of the mustangs from the corral by the mountains again.

He won't be hauling the swill out to the marvelous, massive pigs on his ranch this morning.

He won't be keeping that appointment to paint another rapturous young nymph nude from life in his studio this afternoon, beginning to sketch in that Yale-trained, wildly skilled, old- fashioned hand that will turn eventually, after great ... attention to detail ... into a most erotic piece of art.

Because contrary to all the predictions, indeed all the signs of life he exuded every waking minute for the last nine decades, Jerry died yesterday.

It's hugely sad for his family: Dabney and Alice, Alan, Seyburn, Barry, Toby. The man was a legend throughout Southern California: Imagine the legend he was around the house. But it's hell for the rest of us, too: I know of no higher praise than to say the loss of one around whom so much fun was had diminishes the situation considerably.

Who, if not Jirayr, will hold Primavera to celebrate spring, his birthday, Dabney's birthday, their anniversary and everything else under the sun? Who will muster the nymphs, cause them to disrobe on the stage and feed grapes to the reclining Zorbachus while the crowd goes wild?

Some readers thought we wrote too much about Jerry and the goings-on at the ranch. Nonsense. We write too much about City Council meetings.

If we could find them, we need more Jerry Zorthians. More artists who can befriend the physicists. More charmers who can kiss all the girls' hands I often tell the story of how Jerry flirted shamelessly with every girlfriend I ever had (excepting Alice) since I was 14 and yet love, and oh how he loved, only Dabney.

"Dabney!' I can still hear him calling from somewhere out back of the adobe. "Dabney, come here. I need you. Come here right now.' (Probably just to have another dance before bedtime.)

Now Jirayr's voice is distant, more distant than Mars. But for those of us who heard it, it won't be stilled; it's a bongo beat coming down over the city, calling on us to never grow so old again, to take the junk of life and build from it an art wall of our selves, to jury-rig it so high and so solid that it will always be there, even when we're gone.

-- Larry Wilson is editor of the Pasadena Star-News. His column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Write him at